Don Impey’s Story

In June 2011, Sheila and Emrys Williams went to see Don Impey, to hear his stories of Eversholt life. This was a sort of rescue archaeology, since, having lived in Eversholt most of his life so far, Don is moving away to the big city with Jean, his new love. He’s kindly given us permission to publish here and in About Eversholt, and it is fascinating stuff. Thank you so much, Don!

Sadly, Don died in 2016. He’s buried with Dawn in Eversholt churchyard.

In December 2016, Dianne Sutton wrote: refers to “Sire” Shearwood at Tyrrells End Farm.

Josiah was an elder brother of my great-grandmother Kate Whitlock, nee Shearwood, born in Eversholt 1877. My newly married parents used to visit Josiah in the period before his death in 1952 and he obviously made a big impression on my father as he would always mention visiting Josiah whenever we discussed Mum’s side of our family history. I think Josiah may have been something of a “character”!

Arthur Edward Shearwood on the War Memorial is therefore related to me, he being Josiah and Alma’s son.

Do you know anything about the Shearwoods? Dianne would love to know. You can leave a message with the form at the bottom of this page and we’ll put you in touch.

Don Impey’s Story

Donald Albert Impey was born in 1935, by the light of an oil lamp, in the rightmost cottage viewed from the road, of the Bedford Estate terraces at New Water End. He was the only child of Frederick – not Fred, please – and Ellen Impey. Frederick William Albert Impey was a local man, and Ellen Rose Parker, born 23 February 1911, came from Surrey. They married in 1933. Don’s been told that he was christened in Flitwick, because there was a relative there who couldn’t make the journey to Eversholt. Apparently the Eversholt rector then, William Escott Collins, was quite miffed at this. Ellen’s father was Tom Parker, head cowman at Priestley’s farm, the same place we buy our veg nowadays.

After just 6 months, the Impeys moved to Surrey, relations with the neighbours not being perfect in Eversholt. Frederick became head gardener for the estate of a wealthy Dutchman. However, once war broke out and Holland was invaded, Frederick’s Dutch employer was cut off and made bankrupt, and Frederick lost his job.

Frederick found work as a gardener on an estate back in Bedfordshire, in Bromham, and the family moved there at the beginning of the war. Shortly after, Frederick was called up to serve in the army – he was born in 1910. With true patriotism and compassion, Frederick’s employer then evicted Ellen and Don from their tied cottage, because Frederick wasn’t working there any more. So Ellen, homeless in wartime with a young child, moved in with Frederick’s parents back in Eversholt. Don says that why he’s always been proud to call himself a socialist.

Frederick’s parents were Tom and Florence Impey. Thomas Joseph Impey married Florence Mary Tew in 1905.

Tom was a bricklayer working for the Bedford Estate. He built a good bit of the estate wall we still have today. Tom also served as the treasurer of Eversholt Friendly Society, a mutual savings and health insurance club. Tom and Florence lived at 69, Brook End, the little cottage that’s now a posh B&B, and that must have been quite a squeeze with Ellen and Don there too. When Don moved in, around 1940, Jarvis the butcher shop was in full swing next door. Don walked round the corner to go to Eversholt school. Don was 5 years old.

At 6, Don spent months in Arlesley Hospital. He had “blood poisoning”, some sort of infection.

Ellen worked in Brett’s bakery in Church End. Don worked there on Saturday mornings and saved enough money for his first bike. Don remembers that Stan Fleet ran a bike shop from his house, which was in what is now Tyrells End Farm. The farm was divided into three cottages, and Stan lived in the right-hand cottage, nearest the church. “Sire” Shearwood lived at the left end, and Alf Goodwin lived in the middle. Mr and Mrs Simpson ran the Post Office and general store. They eventually retired over the road to live in the new bungalows in Church End. The Simpsons had three children. Ian was Don’s age, and he went on to become a doctor, emigrating to Newfoundland. Alistair was younger, and rowed for Cambridge. Their younger daughter moved to Australia.

After a bit of this cramped squeeze in number 69, Ellen and Don moved up the road in Brook End, to a thatched cottage that lay back from the road, between “The Thatch” and Brook End House. It’s not there today because, just after they moved in, it burnt down, and back Ellen and Don went to number 69. Don says that the back garden of what is now Tyrells End Farm was then a rickyard for storing harvested crop, and in the rickyard were camped some soldiers. Seeing the fire, they raced across the field to help rescue what belongings they could. They knew Ellen’s husband was away fighting, and treated her as one of their own.

Don remembers catching fish in Stonny Pond, which is what they called the pond opposite Helford House in Tyrells End. He used to help with the threshing. The crop would be stored in large thatched stacks waiting for the threshing machine to come round. The most important point to remember at the threshing was to tie string round your trousers, to stop the rats running out of the stacks and up your legs. The threshing machine called at Tyrells End Farm one day and caught fire, destroying the machine and the stored crop.

Don helped move the single cow from Woodside Farm, where Hillyard’s nursery is now, to Church Farm, for a date with the bull that lived there. Don’s job was to run ahead along Witts End closing all the gates to stop the cow wandering off. When the churchyard was cut, by hand with scythes, the hay was carried over the road and fed to the bull.

Ellen moved out again in 1943, to number 6, Lower Rads End. That’s the end of the little terrace next to the Wye, and it’s still there now. They’d only been there a little time when a telegram arrived. Don’s father, Frederick, gunner, 64 field regiment Royal Artillery, had been killed at Salerno in Italy on September 27th, 1943. He’s still there now, buried in the war cemetery. Don was 8. Frederick is named on the war memorial at Eversholt Church.

Don remembers that the headteacher during his time at Eversholt school was Fanny Barr. “I don’t know her real name, but we all called her Fanny.” She lived in what is now School House in Church End. Mildred James was a teacher there, and she lived over the road in Apricot Cottage. During the war, Eversholt school took pupils up to the age of 14, but Don left after the war, when he was 11.

Don remembers that he and his young friends from school used to sneak in to fish in Linden Lake, and get chased out by the gamekeeper who lived at Potters End. The gamekeeper couldn’t work out how they escaped when he chased them. Don and his friends ran into the tunnel that carries the brook underneath the cricket pitch, and walked in the dark, in the water, in the tunnel, all the way to come out at Brook End. “We knew we were OK when we could see the light coming through the grating.” Don was at most ten years old.

He also remembers, some time before D-Day, being very confused by strips of silver foil falling from the sky while he was walking at New England. It was chaff, metal foil dropped from aircraft to confuse radar. They were practising for invasion. Rather less successful was the aircraft wing on a truck which hit the cottage at The Close in Witts End, leaving a hole that was visible for years. Don saw the first De Havilland Comets flying from the factory in Hatfield, and watched autogyros while he was standing in the Eversholt school playground.

Don went with the school to visit Parliament, guests of Alan Lennox-Boyd, the local MP. On the same visit, they went to London Zoo, which might have been more fun.

Don and his friends used to swim in the Eversholt swimming pool, and had fun catching the frogs they shared it with. The chap who ran the pool then only opened it in the evenings, and Don&co would climb over the corrugated iron wall to sneak in and swim during the day. When they were eventually caught, they were given the key so they could sneak in without having to climb over! This laissez-faire approach to swimming safety had a great benefit, because when Don moved on to school in Toddington, he was almost the only child who could swim. He’d taught himself during his clandestine visits in Eversholt pool.

Don didn’t get on very well at Eversholt school, but did pass his exams to go to grammar school. However, Ellen said he couldn’t go, because they couldn’t afford it. School might be free, but all that kit cost money. There was quite a row about it, apparently. Anyway, Don didn’t go, and stayed at school in Toddington, “where the village hall is now”. He left there at the ripe old age of thirteen and a half to go to Luton Technical College, and, at fifteen and a half, left to take up an apprenticeship at an engineering firm in Aspley Guise. “Go down the little road beside The Bell and it’s on the left.” The firm moved to Bletchley, and Don cycled to Bletchley to work every day from Eversholt.

in 1956, when Don was 21, he was called up for National Service. He attended a test and medical in St Albans, where he was selected for the Air Force. After the aptitude tests, the RAF officer said something like, “Impey, come over here, we want you in the RAF. You don’t want to be with those thickies over there.” Meaning, the British army! Don went, not altogether willingly, to Cardington, then to Winslow in Cheshire for basic training. While there, he happened to be in the crowd to see the first ever game that Bobby Charlton played for Busby’s Babes at Manchester United. Then Don went to Marham in Norfolk, where he stayed for the rest of his service until 1958. He worked on hydraulic systems for Valiant bombers, which regularly carried nuclear bombs high above England. The theory was that if Russia destroyed the whole country with a nuclear attack, the V-bombers in the air could still retaliate.

Don returned to work at his old engineering employer in Bletchley – they were required by law to take him back on after National Service – and stayed working there for more than thirty years. He was a machine tool fitter, a skilled job, very highly regarded in the industry. He bought the house at 6, Lower Rads End.

Don says that many younger people left Eversholt in the fifties and sixties because they couldn’t get houses. Part of this was because the Bedford estate owned many of the houses and let them only to its employees. It was just as hard for young people to find housing in Eversholt then as it is now. He has an interesting story about one property, though. Only a rumour, he insists, he didn’t witness it himself! Annie’s cottage in Brook End was the small house to the right of The Thatch. The cottage was demolished and rebuilt after Annie’s death in about 2008. In the 1960s, the cottage went up for auction in Woburn, and W C Williams, the property developer who bought many houses in the village from the Duke, placed the winning bid. A bystander went up to WC Williams and said, “You’re a hard bugger, aren’t you?”
“Why’s that?”
“That chap you’re bidding against lives in the cottage right now.”
WC Williams immediately withdrew his winning bid and Annie’s cottage was bought by its sitting tenant, who went on to become Annie’s husband and live there all his life.

From 1959 until sometime in the 80s, Don served on the Parochial Church Council, the body that manages (is that the word?) Eversholt church. He was a churchwarden for 14 years and cut the churchyard grass for ten years. “With a strimmer, not a scythe. I’m not that old!”

Don drank in the Green Man, the Red Lion in Witts End and the Falcon in Lower Rads End. Bill and Aileen Rose ran the Green man in the 70s, and Don won the singles darts cup there in 1980. He won several bowls trophies when the club played at the recreation ground. He also has a cup from Eversholt Cricket Club. Don, his father Frederick, and grandfather Tom, all played cricket for Eversholt, three generations for the same team.

Don eventually gave up work to be the carer for his mother, Ellen, who died in 1993. Don did odd jobs locally when he could find the time. The whole family is buried together in Eversholt churchyard, but there is no gravestone. At first, the family had no money for memorials. Later, when Ellen was old, she told Don that if he put up a gravestone, she’d come back and haunt him. When Don no longer cut the churchyard grass, her grave would be messy – no gravestone and the mower would go right over it and keep it neat. Don knows just where the grave is.

In 1994, Don married Julia Dawn Rhodes. Dawn wanted a bigger garden, so they sold 6, Lower Rads End and moved to 10, Tingrith Road, one of the cottages owned and rented out by the Eversholt Charity. Very sadly, Dawn died in 2009.

Now, Don has met Jean, and is emigrating – well, as far as Essex – to make a new life with her there.

Don, thank you so much for letting us hear a tiny part of your story. We hope you have a great time with Jean!

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